The IAAI and CFITrainer.Net present these podcasts with a focus on issues relating to fire investigation. With expertise from around the world, the International Association of Arson Investigators produces these podcasts to bring more information and electronic media to fire investigators looking for training, education and general information about fire investigation. Topics include recent technologies, issues in the news, training opportunities, changes in laws and standards and any other topic that might be of interest to a fire investigator or industry professional affected by fire. Information is presented using a combination of original stories and interviews with scientists, leaders in fire investigation from the fire service and the law enforcement community.
ROD AMMON: And welcome to this podcast for April of 2014 for the International Association of Arson Investigators and CFITrainer.Net. I’m Rod Ammon. Today, we’re going to do two things on the podcast; we’re going to start out by talking to Don Robinson. He’s with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; he’s a Special Agent in Charge currently stationed at the National Center for Explosives Training and Research. It’s located at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. After that, I’ll give you some updates on the training activities of the International Association of Arson Investigators. So, we’re here today with Don Robinson; he’s the Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, their national center for explosives training and research, which is in Huntsville, Alabama. Don, thanks for being with us.
DON ROBINSON: Sure Rod, my pleasure.
ROD AMMON: We’re very grateful. I think there are a lot of questions out there about how can I use the ATF, what’s the background of ATF in fire investigation? Could you talk a little bit about that?
DON ROBINSON: We go back as far as the Gun Control Act being passed back in 1968, and part of that legislation included destructive devices which include incendiary devices; Molotov cocktails and other kinds of things that were used. So, there are federal statues going back to that we enforce, actually even before ATF became ATF in the late ‘60s, and then after ’68 you saw the Organized Crime Control Act, which is probably better known as the Explosives Control Act in 1970 come out. And ATF used an interpretation of one of the statutes in that act to include incendiary devices again in kind of a landmark case in ATF at least, in the early ‘70s with an arson case that resulted in a number of deaths down south and actually used those statutes and it was the first support by the courts of us using that interpretation, and that’s really opened the door to us to enforcing the federal statutes, arson as well as explosives. You saw in the mid-to-late ‘70s that arson task force concept was established in ATF. The first task force was in Philly and that carried out to the US Attorney’s Office through the 23 strike force cities across the country by later that year.
ATF established the national response team concept in about 1978, had our first NRT callout in ’79 and really bringing that team concept, a bunch of arson and explosive specialists along with chemists and other support folks establishing these teams. We started out with two teams on either sides of the country and now we have a full complement of national response teams, three regional teams, but folks across the country and can respond to any scene - large fire and arson or explosive scene, working with state and local partners and kind of bringing that team concept to that. You know, we saw the Anti-Arson Act passed in ’82, Church Arson Prevention Act in ’96. So the federal statutes continued to develop and we enforced those, we have some outstanding forensic auditors across the country now that support those complex investigations of fire and arson cases, and even when we transferred over to The Department of Justice from Treasury, after the Homeland Security Act of 2002, we saw the passage of the Safe Explosives Act, which, again, with the nexus between incendiary and explosive devices and a lot of additional controls on explosives. So, we’ve been involved with it for quite a while and I’m very happy to be in the position I am here.
ROD AMMON: So you corrected me with something, and while that’s happened quite a few times over the decade, a lot of people say ATF, now it’s Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. You want to talk briefly about that?
DON ROBINSON: Sure. With passage of the Homeland Security Act in 2002 you saw a lot of agencies move around and we went from The Department of Treasury to The Department of Justice, so we’re in Justice with FBI, the Marshals and DEA, but along with that, Congress just recognized what we were already doing and make sure that that was brought over with us to DOJ, but our work enforcing explosives statutes and on the regulatory side, the regulation of the explosives industry. But explosives is long in our history and I think they just wanted to recognize that, we kind of joke around it’s the silent E, they left it as ATF for branding and other purposes, but yeah, it is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
ROD AMMON: All right, that helps, thanks. When I look at my history working with you and the folks at the ATF it starts sort of at the end of when you talked about the Church Arson Prevention Act in 1996, or I guess the beginning of that act, we worked on a project call interFIRE.
DON ROBINSON: That’s right.
ROD AMMON: And that history sort of made a tie-in for me because I was working with other folks as time moved on in local and state training, the International Association of Arson Investigators and some other folks that were actually in the private sector, American Reinsurance and different people were reaching out to local and state folks to increase or improve the fire and investigator training. Can you talk a little bit about how ATF is working to serve investigators?
DON ROBINSON: ATF, we value our partnerships and role in that fire investigation community. We are now, with an internal reorganization, been able to bring our fire and arson programs together again with the explosives here under one roof at... So all the programs are working together, the program managers, division chiefs and we’ve been able to breathe some additional life into some of the programs that we’ve been known for in the past. As I’m talking with you, we’ve got a advanced arson investigation course for our own agents going on downstairs and then we recently did an arson for prosecutors course that for budget and other reasons we hadn’t been able to do, but we’re breathing life back into that program.
Back in the summer, I made a trip out to Maryland and met with the Executive Director and the Board there for IAAI; actually next week I’m heading out to the IAAI international conference to participate in the opening ceremonies there. We’ve got a lot of people that are involved in making presentations and instructors in that conference next week. So we’ve got responsibility for investigation and supporting our local partners. Just wrapped up a national response team to Des Moines, Iowa for a large fire at a historic building in downtown Des Moines and it’s nice to hear how well the folks are working together at the scene. We take that team concept very seriously and we train all of our folks in it and it’s the work we love.
ROD AMMON: It’s nice to hear. Sometimes you know, you hear people talk about oh, the Feds or you see in television the Feds came in and they took over, and what I hear about you guys is that when you get called in, it seems like there’s a good relationship as you were just alluding to out there in the field. What is it that somebody who’s a fire investigator can do to reach out to get help from the ATF?
DON ROBINSON: Yeah, they can start right off contacting their local field office, determining if they have a fire investigator or a CFI, a Certified Fire Investigator, in that group or nearby, many of our groups are what we call general groups. So, usually if it’s outside of a large city they’ve got folks there that have responsibility for all three things, firearms enforcement, explosives and fire and arson. So they can make contact there, they can also contact us here at the... because we can hook them up with some resources out in the field. So, that local contact at the field office is the first step.
ROD AMMON: You know, one of the things I’ve heard in the past is hey, don’t exchange your business cards the first time at the scene. What is that somebody who’s a fire investigator can do to initially develop a relationship with the ATF office?
DON ROBINSON: I would encourage them to introduce themselves at either chapter meetings, get in touch with the local field division office and just kind of introduce themselves. We’ve got a lot of folks out there doing some good work, even outside the CFIs, we have fantastic investigators that specialize and like to work the arson investigations, and they don’t make the origin of cause call, but they specialize in the investigation, and we depend on relationships with our state and local partners. There’s many times it’s a single agent working with his fellow law enforcement and fire investigative personnel and we depend on the team concept, not just on the NRTs but working any case.
ROD AMMON: So I need some help technology, and I had put a bug in your ear about this a little bit, but I was wondering what - what’s going on with technology today? What kind of things can the ATF do to support me with tech?
DON ROBINSON: Our fire research laboratory in Ammendale, Maryland, it’s connected to our national laboratory there, that place is a wealth of support of the local fire investigator. In that complex we have the ability to recreate a scene, to build I know at least a two-story townhouse under a hood in this facility, recreate the scenario from a fire investigation, and we can use that to prove or disprove a witness statement or a defendant’s statement. That thing is there for - not just for ATF investigations but for the state and local investigators to take advantage of also. We have a wealth of fire engineers, electrical engineers that are assigned to the fire research laboratories, CFIs assigned there, our field personnel; work with them all the time, they do training at the fire research lab and that’s a heck of a gem that we have there in Maryland. That’ll support any case in any jurisdiction.
There we’ve got some great case presentation software that we use to document the scenes and pull those things together. We’ve always, in this team concept thing with the NRT, anybody that’s worked with the NRT knows when we leave the scene there’s a copy of everything left with the local and the investigators as well as the ATF agent that requested the team. That, in combination with some real upgrades to our forensic mapping that we do of scenes, and the way that is able to be presented later in court is pretty cool stuff for a jury to see. Now, those are just a couple examples, but man I would really - that fire research lab is something that can support any job out there and it’s a heck of a tool.
ROD AMMON: You know, it’s great the things that you’re doing on a federal level because I can tell when I talk to folks on the local and state, they’re dealing with budget issues or not enough manpower and a fire investigation is, as you well know, can be an awfully dirty, digging kind of experience and knowing there’s somebody out there you can call is probably real welcome.
DON ROBINSON: Sure.
ROD AMMON: And thanks again Don.
DON ROBINSON: Thanks a lot Rod, appreciate it. Thanks for the call.
ROD AMMON: We’re very grateful for the help form the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and for Don taking the time to talk to us about the ATF and what they’re doing. The IAAI has a lot of other things going on, the International Training Conference is coming up this week in Las Vegas. There’s more information about the conference at firearson.com. But topline on that is that there’s 120 hours of in-person training and there’s expertise from around the world. There is a keynote presentation about the Station Nightclub fire with John Barylick; he’ll be talking about lessons learned, legal battles and victim’s rights. Another training update, there’s a class on digital forensics in arson investigation coming up at the IAAI’s headquarters in Bowie, Maryland. Again, for more information on that go to www.firearson.com. For the International Association of Arson Investigators and CFITrainer.Net, I’m Rod Ammon. Be well.
This program provides a primer on accreditation, certification, and certificates for fire investigation training.
A fire occurred on the night of Feb. 20, 2003, in The Station nightclub at 211 Cowesett Avenue, West Warwick, Rhode Island.
Arc Mapping, or Arc Fault Circuit Analysis, uses the electrical system to help reconstruct a scene, providing investigators with a means of determining the area of a fire’s origin.
This module introduces basic electrical concepts, including: terminology, atomic theory and electricity, Ohm’s Law, Joule’s Law, AC and DC power.
A fire occurred on the evening of June 18, 2007, in the Sofa Super Store in Charleston, SC that resulted in the deaths of nine fire fighters.
This module looks at the many ways fire investigators enter and grow in the profession through academia, the fire service, law enforcement, insurance, and engineering.
This module will present a description of the IAAI organization.
This module takes a closer look at four of the most commonly-reported accidental fire causes according to "NFPA Fact Sheet.
This program brings three highly experienced fire investigators and an attorney with experience as a prosecutor and civil litigator together for a round table discussion.
The program discusses the basics of digital photography for fire investigators as well as software and editing procedures for digital images intended as evidence.
This self-paced program is an introduction to discovery in civil proceedings such as fire loss claims and product defect lawsuits.
This self-paced program is an introduction to discovery in criminal proceedings.
This module covers the foundation of DNA evidence: defining, recognizing, collecting, and testing.
This program provides a practical overview of how to perform the baseline documentation tasks that occur at every scene.
This module will discuss the techniques and strategies for conducting a proper science-based fire scene investigation and effectively presenting an investigator’s findings in court as an expert witness.
This module presents critical electrical safety practices that every fire investigator should implement at every scene, every time.
This self-paced program examines the fire investigator's ethical duties beyond the fire scene.
As social media has emerged as a powerful force in interpersonal communications, fire investigators are being confronted with new questions...
Should you work for a private lab as a consultant if you are on an Arson Task Force? How about accepting discounts from the local hardware store as a “thanks” for a job well done on a fire they had last year?
This module takes investigators into the forensic laboratory and shows them what happens to the different types of fire scene evidence that are typically submitted for testing.
This module teaches the foundational knowledge of explosion dynamics, which is a necessary precursor to investigating an explosion scene.
This module addresses the foundations of fire chemistry and places it within the context of fire scene investigations.
The program is designed to introduce a new Palm/Pocket PC application called CFI Calculator to users and provide examples of how it can be used by fire investigators in the field.
This module examines these concepts to help all professionals tasked with determining fire origin and cause better understand fire flow dynamics so they can apply that knowledge to both to fire investigation and to fire attack.
This module provides a road map for fire officers to integrate and navigate their fire investigation duty with all their other responsibilities and describes where to obtain specific training in fire investigation.
The evaluation of hazards and the assessment of the relative risks associated with the investigation of fires and explosions are critical factors in the management of any investigation.
This module will describe the most commonly encountered fire protection systems.
This module presents best practices in preparing for and conducting the informational interview with witnesses in the fire investigation case.
This module provides instruction on the fundamentals of residential building construction with an eye toward how building construction affects fire development.
This module teaches first responders, including fire, police and EMS, how to make critical observations.
This program discusses how to access insurance information, understand insurance documents, ask key questions of witnesses, and apply the information learned.
This module offers a basic introduction about how some selected major appliances operate.
This program introduces the fire investigator to the issues related to the collection, handling and use of evidence related to a fire investigation.
This program takes you inside the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) archives of some of the most interesting and instructive test burns and fire model simulations they have ever conducted.
The program provides foundational background on the scope of the youth-set fire problem, the importance of rigorous fire investigation in addressing this problem, and the role of key agencies in the response to a youth-set fire.
This module provides a thorough understanding of the ways an investigation changes when a fire-related death occurs.
This self-paced program will help you understand what to expect at a fire where an LODD has occurred, what your role is, how to interact with others, and how to handle special circumstances at the scene.
This program will introduce the fire investigator to the basic methodologies use to investigate vehicle fires.
This module presents the role natural gas can play in fire ignition, fuel load, and spread; the elements of investigating a fire in a residence where natural gas is present; and the potential role the gas utility or the municipality can play an investigation.
This self-paced program covers fundamental legal aspects of investigating youth-set fires, including the juvenile justice system, legalities of interviews and interrogations, arson statutes, search and seizure, and confidentiality.
This program discusses the latest developments in expert testimony under the Daubert standard, including the MagneTek case recently decided in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.
This module focuses on how to manage investigations that have “complicating” factors.
This module uses the Motive, Means, and Opportunity case study to demonstrate how responsibility is determined in an arson case.
This program covers the general anatomy of a motor vehicle and a description of typical components of the engine, electrical, ignition, and fuel systems.
This self-paced program is the second part of a two-part basic introduction to motor vehicle systems. This program describes the function and major components of the transmission, exhaust, brake, and accessory systems.
This module educates the investigator about NFPA 1033’s importance, its requirements, and how those requirements impact the fire investigator’s professional development.
This module reviews the major changes included in the documents including the use of color photos in NFPA 921 and additional material that supports the expanded required knowledge list in NFPA 1033 Section 1.3.7.
The program illustrates for the fire investigator, how non-traditional fire scene evidence can be helpful during an investigation.
This module introduces the postflashover topic, describes ventilation-controlled fire flow, illustrates how the damage left by a postflashover can be significantly different than if that fire was extinguished preflashover.
This module lays the groundwork for understanding marine fires by covering four basic concepts that the investigator must understand before investigating a marine fire.
In this module, you will learn more about how cancer develops, what occupational exposure risks to carcinogens exist at fire scenes, and how to better protect yourself against those exposures.
The use of the process of elimination in the determination of a fire cause is a topic that has generated significant discussion and controversy in the fire investigation profession.
This module teaches the basics of the electrical power generation, distribution, and transmission system.
This module presents the basics of natural gas and its uses and system components in a residence.
This module explains the principles of search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, as contained in the amendment and according to subsequent case law, and applies them to typical fire scene scenarios.
One of the legal proceedings that may require the fire investigator to testify is a deposition. Depositions are often related to civil proceedings, but more and more jurisdictions are using them in criminal cases.
Deposing attorneys employ a variety of tactics to learn about the expert witness giving testimony, to try to unsettle that witness to see how he/she handles such pressure, and to probe for weaknesses to exploit.
This module provides introductory information on the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard – 29 CFR 1910.120.
The program examines the importance of assessing the impact of ventilation on a fire.
This module demonstrates the investigative potential of information stored on electronic devices.
This module explains the relationship between NFPA 1033 and NFPA 921
The basics of the scientific method are deceptively simple: observe, hypothesize, test, and conclude.
This module addresses the foundations of thermometry, including the definition of temperature, the scales used to measure temperature and much more.
This program presents the results of flame experiments conducted with a candle.
This self-paced program explains to non-investigators the role of the fire investigator, what the fire investigator does, how the fire investigator is trained, what qualifications the fire investigator must meet.
This module will untangle the meanings of "undetermined," straighten out how to use the term correctly, talk about how not to use it, and describe how to properly report fires where "undetermined" is the cause or classification.
This module will advise fire investigators on how to approach the fact-finding procedures necessary and validate a hypothesis.
This module provides an overview on how structures can become vacant and eventually abandoned.
This self-paced program provides a basic framework for structuring the management of fire cases and fire investigators.
This module illustrates how wildland fires spread, explains how to interpret burn patterns unique to these types of fires.
This module presents the key elements of the initial origin and cause report and methods of clearly presenting findings in a professional manner.